COMEDY GOLD #9: Gossip from The Women (1939)

Image result for the women muriel hutchison mary cecil

Look, I like what The Women (1939) meant to do. I like the whole thing about it having an all-female cast, about it being about women and everything. Unfortunately, I’ve always felt that it missed the mark entirely. Yes, it’s hilarious. Yes, it’s got a great cast (understatement!). But its depiction of women and female friendships and relationships does have its problems, which is ironic considering a woman wrote the play it’s based on (Clare Booth Luce) and two women wrote the screenplay (Anita Loos and Jane Murfin).

Directed by everyone’s favorite ‘woman’s director’, George Cukor, The Women is all about their men. More precisely, Mary Haines (Norma Shearer)’s husband, who’s having an affair with Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford), which apparently everyone else knows about – gossip! With a cast boasting comedy queens Paulette Goddard and Rosalind Russell, one would be tempted to pick a scene with either of them, but actually my personal favorite scene is the one where the cook, Maggie (Mary Cecil) and the maid, Jane (Muriel Hutchison) are having a detailed conversation – gossiping – about an argument that Mary had with her husband. What I like about it is that it just seems so uttery innocent, unlike the ‘catty’ tone of nearly every other interaction throughout the film. Jane genuinely cares about Mary, and Maggie delivers one-liner after one-liner, which more often than not comes with sane advice – again, unlike the rest of the film.

I suppose I have a love-hate relationship with The Women. I admire its boldness, I like how special it was back in the day and I love Norma Shearer’s performance as Mary, the only truly sympathetic character in a sea of stereotypes. But is it really the best classic movie about women and their relationships with each other? No. Stage Door (1937) is. Still, The Women is a comedy triumph and one of the most iconic movies from Hollywood’s greatest ever year.


Cool Mitchum…

We all know Robert Mitchum was THE coolest cat. And Out of the Past (1947) might just be the coolest he’s ever been. But one scene that never gets mentioned is the one that I personally rewind at least three times every time I watch it. No, not ‘Baby I don’t care’, although that one is certainly fantastic. I’m talking about the scene towards the end, where he enters the club, walks up the stairs, walks into the manager’s office, punches him, answers the phone in his most nonchalant ‘yeah’, picks up the file he’s looking for, lights a cigarette and walks out again. All seemingly done in one extraordinarily smooth go. Pure class.

DOUBLE BILL #18: Love Affair (1939) and An Affair to Remember (1957)

collagecvjkfIt’s not unusual for a director to remake their own movie. Hitchcock did it, Cecil B. DeMille did it (twice!), and Leo McCarey did it. Love Affair (1939) and An Affair to Remember (1957) are two of the greatest romantic films of all time and while it’s easy to make that claim about a whole array of movies, these two surely stand out from the crowd, precisely because of McCarey’s sensitivity, subtetly and humanity as a director.
In Love Affair (1939) and An Affair to Remember (1957), Terry McKay (Irene Dunne/Deborah Kerr) and Michel Marnet/Nickie Ferrante (Charles Boyer/Cary Grant) fall in love aboard a transatantic ship, while engaged to other people. As a result, they vow to meet again on top of the Empire State Building in six months so they can finally be together. It’s a tale as old as Hollywood itself and like so, it has been remade, copied and referenced countless times, because why not? Its message is timeless, and both films are just lovely enough and poignant enough to balance themselves between romantic comedy and romantic melodrama. The simplicity and straight-forwardness move the story along effortlessly and its comedic value adds to what would undoubtedly be a soppy tale otherwise. On top of this, the performances of the two leads are obviously the stand-out points of each film. In Love Affair, Boyer’s debonair coolness and Dunne’s endearing wit and charm are a wonderful combination and the two enjoy great chemistry and ease with each other. In An Affair to Remember, Kerr and Grant play Terry and Nickie with just as much grace, ease and confort as their counterparts. Kerr’s ability with comedy and drama (and a wonderful touch of sarcasm) rivals that of Dunne, who’s always been known for that, while both Boyer and Grant bring a touch of class and irresistible sophistication to their roles, without ever losing the depth of their characters, even though Boyer’s Michel is much less reserved about his playboy reputation. This has perhaps to do with the more relaxed tone of Love Affair. While incredibly moving, Love Affair has a 1930s romantic dramedy feel (McCarey’s glorious period), while An Affair to Remember has a darker tone to it. It was made 18 years after Love Affair, and in that time, McCarey’s life had eerily mimicked that of Terry McKay and her tragic accident, which might explain the ‘life is too short’ type of vibe in An Affair to Remember. Love Affair is perhaps more carefree, while An Affair to Remember is wiser. That’s not to say, of course, that there isn’t a great deal of sentiment and maturity in Love Affair. There is. Not least because of the grandmother (Maria Ouspenskaya, in a role later played by Cathleen Nesbitt), a sort of figure of wisdom in both films.

Personally, I adore both of them. They’re nearly virtually identical and equally great. If pushed, I’d say I might prefer An Affair to Remember, simply because of that wonderful, immortal line, ‘Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories. We’ve already missed the spring.’ Oh Deborah, why must you do this to me?